Conaway, Peterson disagree as House Ag adopts budget letter

The House Agriculture Committee adopted a letter on budget views and estimates Wednesday, but House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and ranking member Michael Conaway, R-Texas, made very different opening statements.

“It’s no surprise the priorities laid out in this letter line up with the priorities of the 2018 farm bill,” Peterson said. “The 2018 farm bill is a fiscally responsible bill we are proud to say will help the people it’s supposed to. It spends no new money. We streamlined some programs and found administrative efficiencies in others. As the economy improves, the price tag on the SNAP program [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] decreases.

“We created new programs to help struggling dairy farmers,” he continued. “We invested in the next generation of farmers and ranchers, including farmers of color and returning veterans. We legalized industrial hemp and boosted support for local and organic foods. We invested in animal health measures, rural broadband expansion and tools to combat opioid addiction in rural communities.

“The result is an overwhelmingly bipartisan success,” Peterson added. “369 members of the House voted for the farm bill. That’s far, far more than have voted for any farm bill in history, and I hope it makes clear to all who are listening that these are priorities with strong support among both parties, across growing regions and crops, and in communities big and small nationwide. It’s also my hope such a bipartisan vote will set the tone for what we do here. Our work on this committee is going to be bipartisan. Our challenges demand it.”

But Conaway said, “While I am prepared to support the letter, I have major concerns. As everyone on this committee is aware, we are entering into the sixth straight year of recession in farm and ranch country right now. I will not recite the litany of troubling statistics this morning but, suffice it to say, things are looking very bleak in rural America.

“I would submit that if current conditions persist, this committee may have to reevaluate its position on the budget” he added. “I don’t want to spend a lot of time digging up old bones but, from my point of view, we frittered away a lot of dollars on new and questionable programs in the farm bill when we should have been spending those dollars to bolster the farm safety net.

“I voiced this concern during the farm bill conference committee but, unfortunately, I did not get a lot of traction at the time,” Conaway said. “So, we are now at the point where conditions in farm and ranch country are continuing to worsen and we do not have any additional dollars to devote to mitigating economic losses.

“Now, I know there is a tendency to lay current conditions at the doorstep of the administration on account of retaliatory tariffs leveled by our trading partners. But, we all know that the agriculture economy has been in the tank since 2014, three years before this administration ever came along.”

–The Hagstrom Report